I never check in a bag for a flight. Well, I very rarely do anyway. And I don’t have a conventional luggage piece that I use as a carry-on. I’ve traveled up to two weeks with the minimalist travel setup that I’m going to describe.
Also, minimal and ultralight is not about finances. I just thought I’d clarify this on the front end. It’s not about not paying the $25 fee to check in a bag. When I travel someone else is usually paying anyway, so this is not an issue. But before I share with you the whole setup, let me give you some reasons why I rarely check in a bag.
1. It’s quicker to get to the gate. Life happens. Sometimes you’re running late to the airport and there’s a long line to get your bags checked. There’s nothing quite as stressful as knowing you have to wait in line for 30 minutes to check in a bag when you know you don’t have much time to make it to the gate.
Nope. Not doing it.
I carry a digital boarding pass on my phone and walk right past that section.
2. Standard carry-on luggage doesn’t fit in smaller planes. I live in Berrien Springs, Michigan. When I fly, I usually fly out of the small regional airport in South Bend, Indiana. On these smaller planes, the standard carry-on pieces do not fit. Space above is very small. Instead, people usually dump their bags at the entrance of the plane and they get placed underneath. Some people know about this ahead of time and some are, unfortunately, badly surprised.
3. You don’t have to stress about finding carry-on space. I know you know what I’m talking about. You board the plane, and all the luggage space near your seat is full. You’d have to go several rows behind your seat in order to find space. And then when the flight is done and everyone is running to get out, you have to go against the tide to find your bag several rows back.
4. You can leave the plane quicker if you have a connection. Like I mentioned above, if you fly in a smaller plane, you have to check the bag in at the gate. After the flight finishes, you’re asked to wait by the door of the plane as the airline staff get your bag from the belly of the plane and bring it. Sometimes, this can take some time. And if you have another connection to make, time is a very precious thing.
5. It allows you to bring only what you really need. If I do check a bag, it usually means I’m traveling with family for the holidays. Here’s what I’ve noticed when I do this: I over pack. For Christmas break, I brought the shoes I was wearing, plus my running shoes, another pair for variety, and some flip flops for the beach. I ended up not running at all because, well, it was Christmas, and I wanted to enjoy eating. Bottom line, when I check-in a big bag, I bring quite a few “just in case” items. That’s just extra weight and extra annoyance.
Ok, those are some of the reasons why I don’t do the standard travel setup. Ready to hear about what I do bring?
A backpack and a small weekender bag.
This is the GoRuck GR0. Here’s what I really like about this bag:
1. It’s bomb-proof. The thing is built amazingly well. It’s made of 1000D Cordura. Here’s the official site where you can get more specs, but suffice it to say that it feels like something you could pass along to your kids.
Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s what I call a buy-it-for-life product. I’ve become a big fan of having fewer things, but of higher quality. By the way, here’s an interesting site that launched recently, that’s premised on that concept.
2. It’s extremely versatile. Honestly, it’s my everything bag. It’s my EDC (Every Day Carry) bag, which is great for the office. I can carry my laptop and quite a few books in it with no problem. If I take my laptop out of the compartment, I can insert a hydration bladder, and it becomes a perfect day hike bag. And, of course, I use it as my primary luggage piece when I travel. More about that later.
3. It’s minimal. I’m not a kid. I don’t need neon colors. I also don’t like tons of zippers and things hanging from the bag. It’s black (they do have a few other colors). Simple. Perfect for me.
4. It has a lifetime warranty and is made in America. It’s made to really be used and abused. I like that. I don’t have to baby it. The company says you don’t need to submit any receipts if something breaks. They recognize their bags and will fix it or ship you a new one if you get it to them.
5. It’s perfect for travel. It only fits 21 liters. This can fit in the smallest airplane carry-on spaces or under the seat, which means I never have to stress about space. If space above the seat is full, I can slip it under the seat no problem.
And this is a really important part: it has a clam-shell open design that functions like a tiny luggage piece. Please don’t underestimate the importance of this. There are lots of other “backpacks” out there. I’ve been using backpacks for a few years now for travel, but there’s a big problem with a typical pack. What happens if you need something that’s on the bottom of the bag? You usually have to empty everything else out. And there’s no easy way to scan for your contents. With this bag, it opens all the way and lays flat, which means you can easily access anything you need.
A few years ago my wife and I did a ten-day trip to Europe to visit a few cities. We each brought a full-size luggage piece. I still remember flying to Paris. After wandering the airport for a while in confusion, we somehow managed to buy metro tickets to take us to the stop closest to where our hostel was. There we were, on this metro train, with two huge luggage pieces. We really stood out. I felt vulnerable.
When we finally reached our stop, we discovered that the hostel was a little ways from the stop. So there we went, pulling our huge pieces through the streets of Paris. It was a horrible way to start a supposedly romantic trip. And, of course, as we traveled to other cities it was the same ordeal—boarding buses, metros, and planes with large luggage pieces. Insanity.
In finalizing on this bag, I probably did over 10 hours of research online. No lie. I can be a little compulsive about research and reviews. Google “GoRuck GR1” for some perspective. That’s the slightly larger brother of the GR0 and, because it’s been out longer, there are more reviews. As you will see, it’s a highly respected bag.
Ok, enough about all that. Let me show you some pictures of my setup.
There are three things I pair with the bag.
- Eagle Creek garment folder in small. Inside, I will typically pack another pair of pants, two dress shirts, two colored t-shirts, and a sweater if it’s cold.
- Eagle Creek tube cube. Here I store two underwear, two pairs of socks, and a pair of synthetic running shorts, which I can use to lounge in my room or to go for a swim. In case you’re wondering, I simply wash things in my room and hang dry. I like this cube because it’s highly adaptable and compressible. I can stuff more inside if I have to.
- Eagle Creek toiletry bag. I used to travel with a conventional toiletry bag, but it was somewhat rigid and didn’t pack down well. It maintained its shape whether it was full or somewhat empty. I recently upgraded to this little guy. It’s also highly compressible and fits well in the top ridge of the bag.
Let me share a simple P.S here. This kind of setup is perfect if you don’t need to wear a lot of formal clothes. If you’re going to a conference for 3-4 days, you’re in. If you’re going to a class for 10 days, you’re good. If you’re traveling for two weeks as a tourist, no problem. But if you need to pack several suits, this will not work. You could wear one suit on you, but if you need more than that, bring a conventional luggage piece.
On the back compartment of the bag I carry my Macbook Pro, and in the front pocket, I carry my iPad with one book.
Would you like to see which ones I thought about getting?
Small Weekender Bag
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s that you always come back with more stuff. If you go to a conference, you might come back with some resources or extra books, so it’s nice to have something extra.
Here is what I’ve been using.
This is small and I carry it by hand. It’s also a nice place to put my winter jacket in if I’m traveling to a warm place.
This will be the next piece I upgrade, by the way. I want to get something—you guessed it—compressible and packable. I might get this compressible duffel by Eagle Creek, but it looks too large for my taste.
There’s one last item I feel deserves mention. It’s my most functional and versatile piece, my Patagonia Nano Puff Vest. I love this thing a lot. It’s light. Keeps me warm, without overheating, and it packs into its pocket. It’s also the perfect travel companion as I can keep important documents, headphones, gum, etc, within close reach.
That’s my current setup.
So what about you? How do you generally travel? Any unique or must have items that you find helpful? Share away. To leave a comment scroll below or click here.
[image by Dariusz Sankowski]